The disturbing hate crime that occurred at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh on Saturday, Oct. 27 was due to one thing: antisemitism. As we break down that word into ‘against’ and ‘Jewish’, one can see that this shooting was not just an assault on one synagogue but an attack on the entire Jewish community. These eleven people were killed simply for being Jewish.
As I walked into my synagogue, Congregation Sinai of San Jose, on Sunday morning to teach my religious school class, I was grateful to see a San Jose Police Department cruiser sitting in the corner of our small parking lot. I knew that officer was there for our safety. At least we were safe.
For the first hour of religious school, I have ten sixth graders. We had a solemn discussion about what had happened and the safety of the Jewish community. I wanted to make sure they knew they were both safe but also part of a religion that some people don’t like.
Over half of my ten- and eleven-year-old students have experienced antisemitism firsthand, when their Jewish day school in Los Gatos was evacuated last year after a bomb threat. It was one of over 2,000 bomb threats made to Jewish community centers, synagogues, and schools last year alone, according to Reuters.
Vigil for Victims
I feel both fortunate to be safe and devastated for the greater Jewish community. I myself attended synagogue on Saturday morning, at which there was a B’nei Mitzvah, the ceremony of a child becoming a Jewish adult. At Tree of Life, there was a circumcision ceremony for a gay couple’s twin children. Shabbat, or the Sabbath, is our one day a week that everyone comes together to pray, and the fact that Tree of Life was attacked at its most vulnerable is an excruciatingly painful realization.
This pain is felt all over. My friends around the country and the world are grieving. On Monday night, I went to a vigil at San Jose State, hosted by the Jewish organization Hillel of Silicon Valley, which serves the students of the South Bay colleges. Hillel’s executive director Sarita Bronstein’s speech highlighted the importance of being together as a community.
“Events such as this one leave us feeling alone and scared,” she said. “This is why it is very powerful to join together in solidarity to remember the victims of this tragedy. We gain strength together.”
18-year-old SJSU business administration student Ronnie Baruch also said the vigil helped her.
“I’m heartbroken,” said Baruch. “After this vigil, I definitely feel better, surrounded and protected, but I’m still heartbroken and in shock about it.”
It’s not just here. Sentiments are being heard all over the country. Kim Robins, 19, is a political science and physics major at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD. She’s feeling the pain that we are all feeling as members of our religion.
“I think it’s really important for people to understand that the entire institutionalized Jewish community feels deep hurt, anguish and fear about this,” Robins wrote in a message to La Voz. “It was an attack on every single one of us and our schools, synagogues and institutions.”
Unfortunately, the fear still exists. Robins continued, “Even if we don’t have direct connections to the Pittsburgh Jewish community, we all have this deep and terrifying sense that it could have happened at any of our institutions.”
And we are, and it was. To it, we are not responding by backing down, but by coming back stronger than ever.
Strength and Respect
In Judaism, we wear a headcovering when we’re praying. Some, including myself, wear it all the time, or just sometimes. This is called a kippah (kee’-pah).
In the past, I have not generally worn a kippah in public, honestly out of fear of judgement. As I’ve grown, I’ve gotten past this fear, and while I am certainly somewhat fearful of consequences of wearing it in public, I put it on after I woke up Sunday and have been wearing it since, whether in public or private. It might not mean much to others, but to me, and to many Jews, it symbolizes our Judaism in a profound way.
Ben Brotman is a 19-year-old electrical engineering major at Northeastern University in Boston, MA. When he travelled to Greece to study abroad for a year, he stopped wearing his kippah because he felt it would subject him to religious persecution. On Monday, back in the United States, he put that kippah back on.
“I thought long and hard about how to address this tragedy,” Brotman wrote in a Facebook post Monday afternoon, “and I realized that the only proper way was to show greater pride and support in my religion and my community. I wear this kippah as a sign of respect, solidarity, strength, and reverence.”
Sometimes, standing together is the best way to fight against intolerance.
“We as Jews are incomprehensibly strong when we show support for one another,” Brotman wrote.
When I first heard the news about the shooting on Saturday morning, I was feeling sad, confused, scared, and especially angry that someone would kill people in their house of worship. Whether it be Muslims, Christians, Jews or members of another religion, no one deserves to be attacked because of their faith.
Solidarity in the Face of Hatred
Now, as we’ve come together as a Jewish community, all I feel is love. Love for those who need it the most, love for those families who lost someone, and love for my friends who are hurting. It is this love that will get us through this grieving process.
Antisemitism is not a new problem nor is it something that will disappear overnight. Over time, our entire community, small as it is, will show our strength. We will take action to prevent this from happening again, and we will continue to work together for a more peaceful United States and world.
A large community vigil was held in front of San Jose City Hall on Tuesday, Oct. 30. Susan Ellenberg, a local school board member, candidate for office and Jew, ended her speech with the emotions and thoughts we are all feeling and thinking.
“I’m scared of a lot of things,” Ellenberg said. “But I won’t be scared to be Jewish.”